I like to people watch. I pause before sharing this bit of information because the best people watching is at the mall. So, by default, in admitting I like to people watch I am also conceding that I don’t mind going to the mall, sometimes. I know as a guy I’m supposed to loath the mall, but hey, you go where the people are.
I think most people like to people watch. This is why reality TV is so popular. Someone caught on to this great past time and decided to try to bring it primetime. While I applaud the effort, they missed the point. When people watching, every moment isn’t action packed. Most people who walk by are normal, boring, and mundane. This is why the odd, eccentric and spectacular stick out so much. It is about patience as much as anything. Meanwhile reality TV feels the need to pack every moment with the odd, eccentric, and spectacular and so they resort to desperate displays of desperation or worse scripting “reality.”
I have a great idea for a reality show, “Mall Cam.” Just park a camera on mall bench and hit record. This way I could have all the joys of the best people watching without actually having to go to the mall (see I recovered a little bit of manhood there). Plus, I get the added benefit of being able to sit on my own couch at home.
I’ve digressed. The point is even Jesus engaged in some people watching. Mark 12:41 records that Jesus “sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box.” (ESV italics mine)
But just watching is not the point. There has to be something worth seeing. And Jesus took what he saw that day and used it to teach a really important lesson.
What he saw was a lot of very religious and very wealthy people giving money at the Temple. This was part of their worship, it was something they were supposed to do. And they were doing it well. Mark records many of them “put in large sums.” Then something out of place happened. And like any people watching, this is where it got good. A poor widow comes by and drops in 2 copper coins, which maybe added up to a penny.
Jesus points her out to his disciples (people watching is always better when you have someone to share it with). He tells them this widow gave more than anyone else. No Jesus is not bad at math. He goes on to explain how all the others gave out of their abundance. However, this widow gave out of poverty, she gave all she had to live on.
These wealthy people were doing what God asked. They were giving, and it was even large gifts. Yet Jesus wasn’t impressed with their gift. I think the reason is the way they view their possessions.
You see the rich people coming by were also religious. Obeying God was important to them. So if he said to give they gave. If he said to give 10 percent (the OT command) they did, even if 10% was an enormous sum. I think a bigger reason they were willing to give was because it was easy. They were wealthy. Giving 10% away made them look good and they weren’t going to be hurting or wanting for anything at the end of the day because of it. There homes were not in jeopardy because they gave. They weren’t going to have to give up anything they enjoyed after giving to God. God got his share and then they resumed the business of taking care of themselves, and making themselves comfortable.
The widow was different though. She came and gave everything. She could have given one coin, and kept the other to buy a little food. But she didn’t. She gave them both. Why? She understood Psalm 24 “The earth is the Lord’s”. All of it, not just the trees, and grass, fields, and mountains, but our money, our cars, our houses. They all really belong to God. She got it. And so she gave sacrificially. She trusted God to provide for her, after all he owns the whole earth.
So how do we approach giving? Is your first response to cringe? Maybe you grow cynical and say “see, churches just want my money!” There is more to it though. When we fail to be generous with what God has given us, we lose sight of whose stuff it really is. Then we start thinking it is actually ours, and we start living to protect it, and get more of it. And if you have ever lived in that place you know the stress, anxiety, and worry that comes with it.
So being generous isn’t just about churches or religious groups wanting your money. God doesn’t need it. He already owns its. Being generous is about keeping our perspective straight. It reminds us who God is, and who we are, and just how much we really do need him. More on that in the next few weeks.